Ramziya with her husband Dima (left) and some alumni

Kazakhstan: an increasingly better friend

Ramziya was born into a Muslim family and encountered the movement 25 years ago through two teachers. Today, the beginning is happening again for her in the eyes of her pupils. From the October issue of Tracce.
Ramziya Saleyeva

I was born and live in Kazakhstan, which for years was part of the Soviet Union. The majority of the people in our beautiful country are Muslim. And it is composed of more than one hundred and thirty ethnicities. I am of Tatar origin, coming from a Muslim family by tradition. When in 1998 I met the newness of faith – through the two faces, absolutely different, of two Christians, two Italian teachers named Edoardo and Claudio – I felt changed, I felt that another world had entered my life. My parents – I am an only child –were the first to notice my change. They would let me go to meet these friends not knowing that they were Christians, but because I had changed so much they said, "Go ahead, spend time with them, we see that you are more and more open, happier." When they found out that they were Christians – finding Fr. Giussani's The Religious Sense in my room – they were frightened. They thought I had ended up in a sect and tried to stop me going because according to them it contradicted my Muslim tradition. But I was already so caught up, conquered, that no one could stop me, not even the pain of my parents and all the obstacles they created to "protect" me. Over time, I realized that this pain of theirs and this position of theirs – this scandal, I would say – helped me a lot because it was like a challenge: it forced me to really ask myself what and who I had encountered in those faces. It took me a few years to find out Who I met, Who came to me and to call Him by name.

I will recount the very beginning of my story because I am a teacher and teach Italian to young Kazakhs. I often see their enthusiasm, the twinkle in their eyes, and that takes me back to the origin of my journey: they make me aware of my beginning. I realize that beauty, through teaching Italian, consists of something else: "You do not simply teach us Italian, you teach us so much more." And I also become aware that I am not the one building, "making" the movement: I am an instrument in the hands of the One who came to me in 1998, and who seizes me again and again. I am more and more grateful, more and more moved that Christ does not give up on me, giving me these gifts and showing me that the blessed charism of Fr. Giussani is alive, and continues to live.

I only saw Fr. Giussani once in my life, but I am finding that he is becoming an increasingly better friend, he is becoming more and more familiar; he keeps me company every day through the legacy he has left in books, in the gazes of my friends, those closest as well as those who live far away. He is alive through my yes before the thirst of the young people I meet, through their hearts that jolt when they see that their lives are changing just as my life changed so many years ago.

My parents, at the beginning, in great pain, did not want to attend my wedding in a Church, nor did they come to the Baptism of our first daughter, nor to that of our second daughter, who was born with health problems. But they did come to the Baptism of our third daughter. I say this because I am not the one "building" something with them: they see how we live the communion with our friends and they are fascinated, they opened their home to our friends, and I am certain that this is how the good God is embracing them. And that for me is living the movement: saying yes to the attraction of the One who reaches out to us all the time.

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The young people I meet in my work, today as in all these years, are also from different ethnic groups and traditions: Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Orthodox... They come to study Italian, but what happens is that they find the meaning of life. During this past summer, some of them came with me to Italy on a trip, on which we were accompanied by Claudio, my former professor with whom it all started. We spent two weeks together, crossing Italy from Milan to Naples, and we became better friends, better companions in the journey of life. This is one short message among those I received, which is what a girl named Aziza wrote to me when we got back: "Dearest Ramziya, I want to thank you for this journey we experienced together. When I had returned, I decided to take time to become aware of what I had experienced with you. In these days I have even felt a bit sad and a very strong nostalgia, but I am grateful to the Most High, to you, to Dima, to Claudio ... for all that has happened to us and for all that He has generated in us and in our souls. Looking at you, I realize that this is exactly how one needs to live, and one can live like this – me, everyone else, the whole world. Thank you for the light you have within, and bring to the world, for the unconditional love, for the care you take of people. I am just sorry I did not get to know you sooner. But everyone has their own time, and I am really happy to have met people like you in my life. I am happy that I was able to experience this piece of the road together, in such a happy and total way." When I receive messages like that, I wish to kneel down before the One who allows me to live a life that can be communicated in front of all these young people and adults, like a 57-year-old student of mine, whose name is Galia. When I look at her, I ask myself: what can I bring to a woman who is older than me? I can only live this passion, this newness that I have encountered in my life.